Project Manager or Project Leader?

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” —Lao Tzu 

What an interesting quote this is if you consider it in terms of the concept of what a Project Leader might be like.

If I was to look at the role of a Project Manager and consider what they do in the context of this quote, it would not seem to fit as well.  There ‘role’ and ‘responsibility’ is seen as needing to ‘manage’ the team; those people working to deliver what is required on the project in order to obtain a successful outcome for the business.

What does that ‘managing’ actually entail?

It means ensuring that the right people are doing the right things at the right time.  Asking questions so that any risks are captured and mitigated in such a way as to not cause a problem or delay to the delivery outcome.  Responsibility for maintaining the finance bucket and monitoring it so that it doesn’t run out, or run over, without someone knowing about it.  It also means being held accountable for the overall project delivery in relation to answering to the project owner/sponsor and Project Control Board.

So, how then might it be different if the person responsible for project delivery was ‘leading’ the team?


Is see that engagement by a Leader is about creating a sense of trust with team members.  A Leader does this by ensuring that the team members feel fully accountable and responsible for what occurs and trusting that they will do what they say they will do.  It means communicating so that everyone is on the same page and feeling part of the team.  Everyone knows what is occurring at any given point in time; who is responsible for what; where the dependencies are; and when there are problems they are involved in the solution design and management.

The team self manages itself in this instance, because they feel fully empowered.  A strong word, I know, but this is what happens when a leader is fully engaged with they team.


Trust is one of the key elements of a good leader.  There must be openness in the relationship between the leader and their team members such that trust is implicit.  There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that they are trusted.  When this occurs there is naturally honesty.  Team tell it like it is.  They will explain when they are having difficulties.  They will come to the leader knowing that they have his or her support to fix issues that arise.


Team members know and feel that they are fully supported by their leader.

Teams will go the extra mile, when they are needed, to deliver once they feel supported.  They will make exceptions, if they need to, for the best outcome for the project.  People will support each other in a stronger and more collaborative way.

So the support from a leader has a two-fold effect.  It creates a stronger bond between the team as a whole.

Working this way where you are leading the team creates what I have called ‘a one-team work ethic’.  It’s the way of creating a team that is cohesive and works cohesively.

Try leading your project team, instead of managing them and see how things change for you and the team as a whole.